Monday, September 07, 2009

ELCA: structured flexibility

ELCA emblemOriginal post, September 2009.

It happened recently at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's Church Wide Assembly: six years later, the asp page is offline now; title is/was, "Sexuality Report and Recommendations, executive summary"; here's a brief excerpt:
The proposal suggests that this church, because of its acknowledgment of and commitment to the bound consciences of all, incorporate structured flexibility in decision-making into its policies and procedures so that synods, bishops, congregations, candidacy committees, and others involved in the candidacy process and in the process of extending calls will be free to act according to their convictions regarding both the approving or disapproving in candidacy and the extending or not extending of a call to rostered service of a person who is otherwise qualified and who is living or contemplates living in a publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationship.
When I heard someone ask, "But how can human creatures bless what the Creator God does not bless?" I needed to respond with at least a short blog. When I'm teaching I always explain the bible is a culturally conditioned and culture bound document, that we try hard, sometimes very hard, using appropriate critical and interpretive tools and skills to contextualize the words on the pages for other times, other places, particularly for the time and the place where we live right now. When I'm teaching a new group or people who don't know me well, I tell them I have high regard for scripture as a divine word but equal respect for it as a human word "with all the ambiguity that implies." It's a specific witness and as Martin Luther insisted, "what preaches Christ" carries greater weight and authority than what does not. Simply put, all scripture is not equal. Jesus Christ, God's living Word, ultimately interprets the written word of the bible. The very idea that a text could be infallible or inerrant is at right angles to any convictions that could have been held in the worlds that originated those texts that oftentimes were verbally conveyed and written down at some point in time much later.

As the Barmen Declaration signatories confessed in 1934:

Barmen Declaration 50 years"Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.

"We reject the false doctrine, as though the church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God's revelation."

Who is this Jesus scripture attests to? Living hospitality, a faithful friend, the embodiment of covenantal, non-exploitative relationship. Both fully human and fully divine, in the power of the Spirit of Life Christ Jesus calls the Church and the churches to live as the demonstration and exhibition to the world of the Reign of God, in the Spirit enables us to the same ways of being and acting as he shows us. (Although Jesus' First Followers would not have had a clue as to the meaning of "church," and Matthew is the only gospel that includes the word ecclesia.) This Jesus is God incarnate, holiness enfleshed, the essence and reality of embracing love, of justice and righteousness for all creation. Jesus also is at home in the culture and religion into which he was born and spent his life.

People with more knowledge, education and insight than I possess have explained ways concepts and realities such as marriage and family have developed, evolved and changed; historically, there never has been a single normative style or structure for marriage or for family. Scriptures witness to God's nature and being, but just as much the word of "holy" writ reveal a particular place and time as some of the canonical texts condone practices like selling your daughter into slavery. In that case, "what would be a just price?" has been a typical response because after all, God mandates equitable compensation. Along with dietary proscriptions and prescriptions... you get the idea.

There may be one or two or a few passages against sexual activity with persons of one's own sex, and for a fact scripture forbids divorce, eating cattle and dairy at the same meal, eating cloven-hoofed ruminants and crustaceans (lobster, crab, and their ilk), wearing garments made of more than one kind of fiber (in that case, even 5% spandex for a little stretch is unscriptural, not to mention true abominations such as 50% cotton / 50% polyester). As Martin Luther insisted, all sin is idolatry, all sin amounts to violating the 1st commandment. In addition, 20th and 21st century medical, psychological and behavioral research and studies have demonstrated knowledge about sexual attraction and behaviors totally unknown in recent centuries, and unheard of when scripture was recorded (and when it was canonized). I've read that about 1% of the population is hard-wired to be either 100% gay or straight; the rest of us are gradations in between. So is everyone "a little gay?" Apparently not, any more than everyone is "a little bipolar," though most people's mood and affect varies considerably from one day to the next and particularly from one season to another. Recently someone suggested there's a strong element of choice in some folks' decision to life partner with someone of the same rather than the opposite sex. The individual pointed out that in general it's a lot easier to understand and therefore to spend most of your days with someone of the same gender because a lot of our attitudes and behaviors tend to be guy things, girl things, guy type or girl type in style. Similarly, most of us have abilities and interests that could lead to employment or a career in a number of areas or disciplines, but if someone who potentially could work as a history teacher chooses a less demanding path as a classroom aide, have they abrogated God's call and purpose for their lives? Possibly to a small extent, but more than anything God's call to faithful living is about good stewardship of time, talents and opportunities and especially to kind, loving non-exploitative relationships, to considering and treating others as "thous" rather than "its."

So especially regarding open factors of circumstance, choice and opportunity, much of the ELCA's decision as well as the recently defeated Proposition 8 in California simply is about equal rights.

Today is a somewhat lazy Labor Day in the USA and Labour Day in Canada, making it feel like an excellent day to get another blog online, and I needed to say something about the recent ELCA decision; here it is...

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